Starlight Dreams

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

Reconciliation and Complications

 

Diego felt something rubbing his cheek in rhythmic cadence.  Top to bottom, top to bottom, gentle, but at the same time firm.  Finally the rubbing changed and became a soft touch; almost what he could imagine an angel’s kiss to be.  He opened his eyes and blinked, trying to focus on the real-life angel hovering above him, her lips pulling away from him and into his line of vision. 

Querido, how are you feeling?” Minta asked.  As his eyes focused, he noticed that she had a razor in her hand.  It had been her shaving him that he had felt.  “And do not even think to check to see if you still have skin!” she teased.  “You do.  I did a good job if I say so myself.”

Her humor was infectious and he smiled.  “What a sight to wake up to,” he murmured, gazing into her amethyst eyes. 

“Diego!” she giggled.  Suddenly, Minta felt the years rolling away and she was back on board the ship to Earth, during the time of their Union.  She reached down and brushed an unruly lock of hair off of his forehead. 

“I feel strange,” he said, puzzled, his brow furrowed in concentration.

“Oh?”  Her smile faded and concern took its place. 

“Like something is missing,” he continued. 

“Well, you are missing a small part of your liver, you also had a hole in your diaphragm, a couple of broken ribs and you lost a generous amount of your blood supply, but you are fortunate; there are expert surgeons on board this ship,” she replied, not totally teasing this time. 

“I should be dead,” he stated simply. 

“Maybe, but I think your santos were looking after you,” Minta responded.  “Diego, I believe that there is something working here that is higher than either one of us.  This is more than coincidence.”

Nodding, he returned to his original problem.  Something was missing, but he felt so tired that he couldn’t think straight.  Diego blinked to keep his eyes in focus.  “Pain,” he finally said.

“Are you in pain?” Minta asked anxiously.  She turned to activate the communicator.

“No, that’s just it.  There is none.  Not really.  Just sore…and tired.”

“Oh,” she breathed in relief, turning back to him.  “I am so glad; you had me worried for a moment.  As to being tired, it has not been much more than eighteen hours since your surgery ended, so it’s natural to feel that way.  The pain medication will do that, too.  You have been sedated heavily in that time as well.”

Minta’s hand strayed through the thatch of hair on his chest, gently massaging.   Diego took her hand in his, raising it to his lips.  He remembered one of his very first acts after he woke up on Rantir was taking her hand and kissing it.  He remembered the times he would kiss her fingertips, teasing her about how much more he had to kiss, since she had five fingers on each hand.  Now he began with her index finger and lightly kissed each one, but after the fourth finger there were no more.   Gazing at her hand, he counted and saw that she had the same number of fingers as he did.  He stared at her hand and then into her eyes.  “What happened?” he asked in a whisper, reaching for her other hand and finding the same thing.  His mind felt a kind of horror creeping into it.

“When the twins asked to come here to meet you, I thought of what I could do to make it easier to stay with you, mi amor.  I knew that a great deal of what set me apart as a ‘demon’ was my hands, so I had them surgically altered.  My feet, too,” she explained.  “The twins were born with four fingers on each hand.  That was not a problem for them.”  She saw the look on his face and went on quickly, “Diego, I have wanted more than anything else to be with you again.  To be united to you forever.  That’s all I have ever dreamed about.  I would go through your Hell to be with you.  And I did what I felt I needed to do to fulfill that dream.”  Her voice rose in agitation as she saw a variety of emotions crossing his face.

“Minta…” he began, but stopped, unable to put into words what he was feeling.  That she would do this for me, he thought.  This sacrifice…oh, Dios, what have I done to deserve this kind of devotion?  I almost let her die and she does this so she can come back to me…   Feeling his emotions rising up inside, building, almost choking him with their intensity, Diego took her hands again.   He felt the tiny scars that barely showed where the fifth finger had been.  Kissing them, he then brought her hands to his cheek and felt the sudden flowing of tears as the culmination of the years of guilt and torment, longing and loss released themselves from deep inside where he had locked so much of it away.  He cried for Minta, for himself and for Conchita. 

“Diego,” Minta cried softly, her own tears flowing.  She pulled away the side frame of the bed and slid in beside him, cradling him as close to her as she could without hurting him, murmuring expressions of love as he cried softly against her chest.  Finally she felt him relax and she drew back, gently letting his head rest back on the pillow, seeing his eyes closed in sleep.  For a few minutes she watched the rise and fall of his chest, then she took a cloth and gently wiped his face.  Minta smiled as she saw the same kind of peace that she had seen on board the star cruiser so many years ago.  Padre Felipe was right.   I cannot leave you again,” she murmured as she bent over and kissed him tenderly. 

 

                                     ==========================

 

Former Sergeant Demetrio Lopez Garcia sang lustily as he drove the wagon filled with wine kegs and bottles to the pueblo.  The morning was almost gone and it was hot, but a breeze was still available to temper the heat.  If he timed it just right, he might be able to wheedle a mug of wine from the innkeeper before he went back home. 

The stubble on his cheeks was more gray then reddish brown and most of the straggly hair that sat like a disarrayed bird’s nest on his head was also heavily flecked with silver.  The jowls sagged more and the steps were slower, but he was still happy.  When he got it, his pension was enough to take care of his simple needs.  When he didn’t, the de la Vegas were quick to let him do the occasional odd jobs for them that compensated for the little house he lived in on the rancho.  The de la Vegas are my friends, he thought, they always had been.  This job, for instance, of taking the wine to the pueblo for sale and distribution. 

And the cook, ah, the cook, what a woman, he thought.  She was almost always willing to give him extra breakfast, and lunch and supper.  Then she would wave her spoon menacingly at his stomach and mutter, “…un hervido muy grande.  Ai, a kettle of prodigious size!”  But she always laughed as he tried to tell her what a good match he would make for her. 

Now as he drove the wagon, sang and thought about how good his life was, he saw a man riding a limping and sweat covered bay horse.  The horse looked to be half dead.  With a flick of the wrist, Garcia coaxed his team into a trot, which was more than sufficient to catch up and pass the beleaguered horse.  Señor, your horse needs to rest,” the former sergeant said. 

“No, no, I need to get away from the mountains and to the pueblo as soon as I can,” the man said. 

“You will not do it by killing your horse,” Garcia pointed out.  The man allowed his exhausted horse to stop and Garcia pulled back on the reins to halt the team.  “Why do you need to get away from the mountains?  There are no hostile Indians anymore.”  He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  “In fact I do not believe that there are any Indians living up in there at all.”

“It is the rustlers.”

“Rustlers?  You mean the bandits that have been stealing the cattle; the ones that killed the vaquero?” Garcia asked.  Thoughts of reward came into his mind.

, if they saw me now, they would kill me,” the man said.

Garcia noticed that the man was almost as gray as the ground, coated in a layer of fine dust.  He had no hat, but he was wearing a bandage around his head.  His nose and cheeks seemed blistered as though from too much sun.  Probably from having no hat, Garcia reasoned.  “What happened to you?” he asked, pointing to the bandage. 

The man stammered and coughed before speaking.  “I was caught by them and they hit me over the head.  I was out cold for hours.” 

, that would explain the sunburn you have as well,” Garcia replied.  “But señor, you sound dry.  Would you like a bit of wine?  You can ride with me and tell me all about your adventure.  It sounds very exciting.  I am heading for the pueblo.

The man nodded, climbed up into the wagon, leaving the horse standing by the side of the road.  As he settled onto the seat, he sighed.   Garcia pulled a bottle of wine from a crate and, using his knife, peeled off the wax seal.  He then pulled the cork out and handed it to his companion.  “What is your name, señor?”

“Uh, Juan,” the man said.  “I was riding in the eastern mountains yesterday morning and came across the rustler’s camp.  One of them caught me and they beat me before knocking me out.”  Juan took a long drink and handed the bottle to Garcia.

As he drank, Garcia looked closely at him, wondering where they beat him.  With a shrug, Garcia decided that he would take Juan’s word for it; the man did look rather scruffy, even if he had no bruises.  He handed the bottle back.  Juan took another long drink and continued, this time not returning the bottle to his host.

“I woke up a little later to find no cattle; they must have stampeded.  Some of the rustlers were dead, but not all and I have to get away in case they come after me.”

“What are you planning on doing?” Garcia asked.

“Go to Mexico.”

Garcia did a bit of quick figuring in his head.  “Well, if you were in the eastern mountains and it has been almost a day since you said you woke up and escaped from the rustlers, why are you only this side of Los Angeles?  It is not that far to the mountains from here.  And why is your horse so worn?”

“I said I was hit on the head.  I was scared and got lost.  I went in the wrong direction,” Juan said testily. 

“How are you planning on getting to Mexico?  You do not have a horse and it appears that you do not have money, either.”

“I have a plan.”

“What is it?” Garcia asked, curious.

“If I tell you, do you promise not to try and get the money yourself?” Juan asked, leaning toward the fat man conspiratorially.  “In fact if you get me to the cuartel, I will even give you a little of it.”

“But, of course, I’ll help you.  In fact, I personally know the sergeant of the guard.  What is this plan?”

“I know for a fact that Zorro was wounded by the rustlers.”

“No!”    

“It is true, señor.   I saw Zorro lying on the ground, injured.  He got up once.  Someone helped him, but when the cattle stampeded he fell down again behind a rock.  He did not try to get up after that,” the small man said, noisily sucking on the wine bottle.  Finishing it, he wiped his dusty sleeve across his mouth and sighed.  

Garcia was startled.  To think that after all these years the fox would be felled by a rustler’s bullet seemed almost impossible.  “But I thought that you said that when you woke up, the cattle were gone.”

“I woke up for just a little when the explosion made the cattle stampede.  Then I passed out again,” Juan explained.

“But when you woke up again, did you not look for Zorro?” Garcia asked, a bit confused.    

“When I woke up again, I did not know if there were other bandits still around or not. I just found a horse and got away as fast as I could,” Juan explained. 

“Oh.  Well, do you suppose that Zorro was badly injured?”

“I do not know.  All I know was that he didn’t get very far when the cattle stampeded,” Juan replied. 

“Well, I suppose that the reward covers a dead body as much as it covers a live one,” Garcia murmured.  Somehow, the idea of getting some of the reward money didn’t appeal to him any more.  “And where did you say this valley was located?”

“East of here,” Juan said evasively.  He watched as they passed the first of the pueblo’s buildings.  His eyes glittered in anticipation as Garcia pulled up in front of the cuartel gate. 

“I will leave you here.  When you collect the three thousand pesos, you can buy a purebred Andalusian stallion.  I really do not need the money,” Garcia said, his voice registering his sadness. 

Gracias, señor,” Juan said as he jumped down and almost ran to the comandante’s office. 

The orderly at the door perused him and frowned.   “What do you want?” he asked. 

“I need to see the comandante.  About a reward,” Juan said. 

“Reward for what?” the orderly asked. 

“For Zorro!” Juan snapped before thinking.  

“And pigs fly during the Feast of St. Michael, too,” the soldier laughed. 

“Tell your comandante that I can tell you where Zorro is.”

With a shrug the orderly went inside the room and spoke to the sergeant of the guard.  When Juan was admitted into the office he gave the soldier a smirking glance.  “I know where you can find Zorro,” Juan said, coming directly to the point, telling his story. 

Sergeant Lugo sat behind the desk, gazing at the nondescript, filthy, ragged man.  He listened to the man’s story for approximately three minutes.  “Where did you say this place was?” he asked. 

“Almost due east of here, in the foothills of the Sierras.”

Lugo stood up, his eye flashing.  Señor, I do not know what kind of joke you are trying to play on me, but if you do not get out of my office in two minutes, I will have you publicly whipped.”

“But, Comandante, we must go find Zorro,” Juan cried out desperately. 

“My lancers were out there this morning and found three rustlers, tied up.   The others were dead-- shot or trampled.  And no sign of Zorro!  That Zorro was there, I have no doubt; that he was hurt, may or may not be, but he is not there now.  Get out of here before I throw you into the carcel!” Lugo shouted.  It had been a very hot, dusty morning.

Juan got out, just as fast as his legs could carry him.  To his horror, though, as he was dashing toward the gate, several of the prisoners began shouting.  “Fernan!  Fernan!  Raton!  Porco!” 

Soon Juan/Fernan found himself in jail next to his disgruntled fellow rustlers. Their cries for revenge making him shiver.  Ai, why did I not just keep riding for Mexico? he lamented to himself, thinking that his journey toward the south had been well on its way when he got greedy and decided to come back and get the reward money for capturing Zorro.

 

                           ==========================

 

As the erstwhile rich man was lamenting his lot in a jail cell, Garcia was sadly delivering the wine to Señor Urbina, the innkeeper.  As the workers were unloading the barrels and kegs, he related to them the distressing tale of Zorro’s misfortune.  Several workers laughed at him, but most listened, as saddened as he was that they might have lost their beloved hero. 

When he returned to the de la Vega rancho, Garcia again related the tale.  Soon the hacienda was abuzz with the news, but there were four for whom the story meant so very much more. 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen
Chapter One
Zorro Contents
Main Page